São Paulo

Rodrigo Andrade

Rodrigo Andrade was part of Casa 7, the ’80s’ most celebrated group of young Paulistano painters. Their gloomy, large-scale, heavily impastoed paintings represented neo-expressionism’s peak here. Several of these five artists subsequently turned to sculpture; others kept painting (but with a more rarefied palette); yet none gave up the group’s earnest struggle with formal issues, in some ways reflecting a local tradition that goes back to Concretismo’s rigorous midcentury geometric abstraction, in contrast to the more fluid Neoconcretismo of Rio de Janeiro.

Last year Andrade painted geometric monochromes directly onto the tiled walls of an unassuming local bar—geometric abstraction abandoning its purist domains to land like a barfly in the most mundane quarters. Andrade has now returned to the white box, yet his trip to the counter seems to have left subtle traces. This exhibition consisted of six apparently simple, mostly untitled paintings of more or less rectangular monochromatic shapes arranged in pairs or groups of four against a white background. The paired colors bear no obvious relationship to each other, and one wonders how the artist has selected them—randomly, I later found out. Some of the shapes have curved borders, defying the pure rectilinearity of midcentury geometric abstraction. Perhaps even abstraction itself has been pushed aside, as the quasi-rectangular monochromatic shapes recall street signs or those found at airports. But some of the shapes have been painted in a thick, even excessive impasto—these are invariably coupled with a downright flat partner—thus neutralizing the graphic effect of an initial frontal view. This is true painting, the thick impasto seems to tell us, even if it’s more apparent in a sidelong glance than straight on (and not devoid of irony). Still, a distinct urban aftertaste remains. Andrade uses ordinary tape to mask and paint his odd rectangles—perhaps too ordinary, or used rather sloppily: At certain points the paint has leaked, or it has not been evenly and smoothly applied. That’s another break with the rigid norms of geometric abstraction, not so much through the incorporation or acceptance of accidents, but rather a certain engineered carelessness. In composition, too, one finds the artist getting it almost but not quite right: The paired shapes are imperfectly aligned, sometimes a bit farther apart than the underlying grid would predict, other times a bit too close—in some cases almost touching the border of the canvas, an effect Andrade was smart enough to use sparingly.

The works are mostly untitled, but two rather dramatic exceptions give new meaning to the whole group: Réquiem (para meu pai) (Requiem [to my father]) and Afeganistão (Afghanistan), both 2002. Personal and political histories are evoked in a seemingly gratuitous way (a practice that goes back to the origins of abstraction) and remind us less of the private and public dramas alluded to than of the difficulty of addressing these and other real-life issues through abstraction. After Andrade’s bar show, and now one that articulates such precise accidents, spills, odd colors, shapes, compositions, and titles, one wonders where his next trip will take him. I may be getting it all wrong (despite my earnest efforts, I was never a good formalist reader), but the studio doors seem wide open.

Adriano Pedrosa